If you’ve had a hard time obtaining medical cannabis, things are about to get easier.
The Utah Department of Health, along with medical cannabis pharmacies, launched a program Wednesday that will increase access for patients who qualify. The program will allow any Utah-licensed physician, physician assistant, podiatrist and advanced practice medical nurse with a controlled substance license, to recommend medical cannabis for up to 15 of their adult patients. That adds up to more than 21,000 medical providers who will now be able to help patients diagnosed with a qualifying condition.
“This program expands access to medical cannabis for qualifying patients by increasing the number of clinicians who have the option to recommend medical cannabis,” said Richard Oborn, with the UDOH Center for Medical Cannabis. “In the past, adult patients had to obtain a recommendation from one of the 800 providers who were registered with the Utah Department of Health, but that is no longer the case.”
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act gives specific designation to these medical providers, according to Oborn. Patients younger than 21 will still be required to obtain medical cannabis recommendations from providers registered with the state health department.
Some conditions that qualify include AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, persistent nausea resistant to treatment, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, terminal illnesses and persistent pain. Hospice patients are also qualified.
According to University of Utah Health, medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, comes from two chemical compounds in the cannabis plant — delta-9 tetrahydrocannainol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The CBD part of the substance is not psychoactive. However, THC is, and that’s the component that causes users to become “high.” Currently, cannabis for medical use is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Several studies have also shown that medical cannabis can be harmful in some individuals and can alter judgment and decision making, interfere with concentration and short-term memory, reduce reaction time and interfere with anti-seizure medications.
Another harmful side effect can be addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, according to research presented at this year’s American Heart Association’s virtual Scientific Sessions. The research showed a growing number of people under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with the disorder and have been hospitalized with a heart attack. The AHA issued a recommendation not to smoke or vaporize any product containing cannabis because of its potential harm on cardiovascular health, and called for more research in cannabis use among youth and high-risk populations.
“Health care professionals need a greater understanding of the health implications of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular conditions or events such as heart attacks and strokes,” said Robert Page, chairman of the AHA scientific statement on cannabis.
Utah’s medical cannabis program launched in March 2020. To date, there are more than 41,000 Utahns with active medical cannabis cards who can purchase the medical cannabis products from any of the 14 pharmacies in the state. Pharmacies are located in North Logan, Brigham City, South Ogden, West Bountiful, Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Lehi, Provo, Payson, Springville, Cedar City and St. George. A 15th location will open in Price by the end of the year.
During the 2022 Utah Legislative Session, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, introduced Senate Bill 46, titled the “Medical Cannabis Patients Protection Amendments.” The bill, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, would add protections for public employees in possession of medical cannabis cards.